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Ratz Are Nice (PSP)

by Lawrence Ytzhak Braithwaite

In Vancouver’s street punk culture, West Coast writer and performer Lawrence Braithwaite has found both the subject and the esthetic with which to further exploit the stylistic territory he began exploring in his 1994 novella Wigger. Ratz Are Nice speaks with the unmistakable rhythms of reggae, ska, and punk; the backslashes and other typographical symbols that Braithwaite used in Wigger to disrupt the text here become visual signs for the slash of hardcore guitars, the tumbling loop of reggae bass, the pumping of fists in the air. Ratz is rhythmic rather than lyrical, but undeniably musical – call it performance fiction, sound fiction – and difficult to read sitting down. Its closest literary relative is not the conventional novel, but the dub poem.

The book’s plot is negligible; what matters here are the repeated patterns of language and behaviour. They are not, it must be said, particularly lovely patterns. White supremacists, gang-rapists, drug dealers, and junkies – Braithwaite’s characters aren’t exactly endearing, or even really interesting in their own right. What makes them interesting – riveting, in fact – is the voice that describes them. It is often incoherent, occasionally tender, and frequently desperate as it tries to make sense through a fog of drugs, alcohol, exhaustion, and fear.

Braithwaite’s narrator, a black skinhead named Edison, is trying to retain his humanity in a clockwork orange world where straight society’s rules don’t apply. Like the world it is part of, Edison’s narrative is chaotic and improvisational, both highly creative and highly self-destructive. But Ratz Are Nice is also self-consciously literary. Substantial endnotes emphasize the research and theory behind the apparent chaos of the text. The language feels grittily real precisely because, like the language of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, it suits the purposes of a specific fiction. Don’t let the disorderly appearance of Ratz fool you; Braithwaite is a fine craftsman, and Ratz Are Nice is punk in the tradition of Tristan Tzara, Johnny Rotten, and Heiner Müller.


Reviewer: Hugh Hodges

Publisher: Alyson Books


Price: $17.75

Page Count: 204 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55583-554-6

Released: May

Issue Date: 2000-9

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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